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Top Five: Michigan Sports Stories Of 2010

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2010 is coming to a close, bringing an end to another eventful year in sports. Here in Michigan there were many great stories from the sports world, and this week's Top Five looks at the very best from the year.

We've nearly come to the conclusion of 2010 and there have been several big stories in the sports world that have taken place in the past year. Michigan is going to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons under Rich Rodriguez, its arch-rival Michigan State won its first Big Ten championship in football since 1990 and the Red Wings signed hometown product Mike Modano to make a run at another Stanley Cup.

But were those moments good enough to make our top five of Michigan sports stories for 2010? Find out below.

5. The Big Chill at the Big House shatters hockey attendance record

When the University of Michigan had to stop selling tickets to the outdoor hockey contest with rival Michigan State because they were selling so fast, it was pretty much a given they were going to shatter the hockey attendance record.

But the largest crowd ever at the nation's largest stadium? Talk about unexpected.

Michigan and Michigan State rocked the hockey world for the second time this decade when an estimated 113,411 people packed into Michigan Stadium on Dec. 11 for what was not only the world record for a hockey crowd, but the largest crowd at an NCAA sporting event. Ever. Granted, most of the modern attendance records already belong to the Michigan football team (the opening football game of 2010 featured a then-record crowd for the stadium), but for a hockey game? It was quite a sight to see to say the least.

The moment has been dampened a bit by the reports by Guinness World Records that only about 85,000 fans were in attendance based on scanned tickets, but the count is still ongoing. For the moment, I'll side with the organization that's been counting 100,000-plus crowds since 1975. 

4. Lions snap 26-game road losing streak against Buccaneers

Since Barry Sanders retired in 1999, the Detroit Lions have become synonymous with losing. During that stretch, they've also become masters of losing on the road. Earlier this season, Detroit tied the NFL record of 24 straight losses on the road when it fell to the New York Giants. It was a record the Lions themselves set, losing 24 times in a row from 2001-2003. Detroit then broke its own record in the next away contest, falling 14-12 to the Buffalo Bills in Week 10.

The streak stretched to 26 after a Week 11 loss in Dallas and many were wondering if it would even end this season. The hopes weren't high heading into Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay, a potential playoff team fighting for a spot in the packed NFC. The Lions have been ravaged all season by injuries and especially going into this game, as they were without quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, as well as a slew of others in the secondary.

But the Lions once again shocked the football world -- this time in a good way.

After the Buccaneers drove down the field and took a 20-17 lead in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, it looked like the Lions were going to add to their road misery. Third-string quarterback Drew Stanton had other ideas.

Making just his fourth career NFL start, Stanton engineered a last minute, fourth quarter drive to tie the game at 20 and send it to overtime. In overtime, Dave Rayner, a backup kicker himself who had just made the field goal to tie the game, nailed a 34-yarder with 9:51 left in overtime to give Detroit a 23-20 victory, ending one of the most dubious skids in history. Not only did the Lions end their road woes, they may have ended Tampa Bay's playoff dreams as well. When the season isn't going your way, there's no better feeling than being the spoiler for someone else.

After the game, head coach Jim Schwartz let out a fist pump for the ages in celebration. Fist pump away, Jim; you deserve it.

3. Red Wings tear through last month of season to make 19th straight playoff appearance

In Detroit not many things are certain with a struggling economy. But one thing you can always count on is the Red Wings competing for a Stanley Cup come April.

The Red Wings had made 18 consecutive playoff appearances prior to last season, the longest such streak in professional sports in North America. That almost ended when a ridiculous amount of injuries hit the Wings like a sledgehammer. Just three games into the season the team lost star forward Johan Franzen to an ACL tear. While Franzen was able to return in mid-February, the injuries unfortunately piled up and never seemed to stop. By December, the Red Wings locker room looked more like a medical ward. When the season ended, only Todd Bertuzzi, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart played all 82 regular season games for the team.

Though they were out of the playoff picture at the time, most expected the Red Wings to make a run at the playoffs after the Olympic break, when they were due to get most of their injured stars back. Despite sending a healthy dose of players to Vancouver for the Games, the Red Wings were able to heal up and proceeded to do precisely what many had expected. Behind a stellar rookie campaign by goaltender Jimmy Howard, Detroit posted a 13-2-2 record in the month of March and recorded 28 points, the most by any NHL team in that stretch. The Wings climbed from out of the playoff picture to fifth in the conference and a playoff date in the first round with Phoenix, which they won in seven games.

The Red Wings were eliminated in the second round by San Jose, which as usual was a disappointment to Red Wings fans. Considering what they had to get through to even make the playoffs, the season was really more successful than it appeared to be.

2. Michigan State wins first Big Ten football title since 1990

Three years ago it was Michigan that was playing for Big Ten championships and Michigan State was the one fighting to get to a bowl game. My how the tables have turned.

While Michigan has gone into a stretch of not winning as many games as we're used to, Mark Dantonio has revitalized the Michigan State football program. In four seasons Dantonio has compiled a 33-18 record, already seventh all-time in wins for a MSU head coach. He hasn't just made the Spartans winners; he's made them contenders.

MSU didn't start the season with championship aspirations, but as the season wore on it looked more and more possible. Thrilling wins over Notre Dame and Northwestern made it look like this team was destined for something special. After Dantonio suffered a heart attack after the Notre Dame game, the team rallied around their head coach and looked like they might be heading for a possible berth in the BCS title game. The team was 8-0 entering its game with Iowa, but got blown out in Iowa City to end the perfect season. The Spartans were unfazed, however, winning their remaining three games to finish 11-1 and win a share of their first Big Ten championship in 20 years.

Many Spartan teams in years past would have folded under the disappointment of the Iowa loss. Not on Mark Dantonio's watch. Though they were shutout of the BCS picture due to a three-way first place tie, the Spartans definitely completed a season worth remembering.

1. Armando Galarraga's Imperfect Game

This was definitely the year of the pitcher in baseball. This season alone there were six no-hitters, two of them perfect games; last year there were just three no hitters and one perfect game. In a 20-day stretch in May, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay each tossed perfectos, the quickest two such performances in major league history. Prior to that, there had never been two perfect games in the same season.

Four days after Halladay tossed his perfect game, Armando Galarraga took the mound for the Detroit Tigers against the Cleveland Indians. Galarraga spent the beginning of the season in Triple-A Toledo, but a double-header gave him the chance to latch on with the big club. Galarraga looked good enough in his first start against Boston that Jim Leyland gave him a chance to become part of the five-man rotation.

To say Galarraga cruised through the Indians lineup that night is an understatement. When Galarraga faced the Indians' Jason Donald in the ninth inning, he had retired 26 batters in a row on just 80 pitches. What happened next will go down forever in sports history.

Donald hit a soft liner on Galarraga's 1-1 pitch to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera halfway between first and second base. Cabrera hesitated a moment as Galarraga sprinted to cover first base, then tossed the ball to his pitcher just as Donald reached the bag. The Comerica Park crowd erupted as the throw appeared to beat Donald by half a step, completing the perfect game. The celebration didn't last long, though.

First base umpire Jim Joyce emphatically waved his arms, calling Donald safe at first. Tigers players dropped to the ground in disbelief, and the crowd booed Joyce relentlessly. Manager Jim Leyland argued the call to no avail. Donald was safe and the perfect game was lost. Galarraga grinned, took the mound and retired the next batter without much fanfare.

After the game, Joyce saw the replays of the event and realized he had blown the call. Joyce apologized to Galarraga personally in the locker room and the pitcher himself only had positive things to say despite being robbed of baseball history. "Nobody's perfect," Galarraga would famously state later. The next day, Galarraga presented a tearful Joyce with the Tigers lineup card, and the umpire responded with a hearty pat on the shoulder.

Handled differently, this could have become an ugly battle that we might still be talking about here in the dead of winter. Because Joyce and Galarraga responded with dignity and respect that many of us would have a hard time with ourselves, we're still talking about it -- but for different reasons. It won't officially be a perfect game in the baseball record books, but it will be a perfect game in the book of sportsmanship.